Stress may be extremely common, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem for those having to deal with it. Whether it’s particular moments that get you worked up or more of a chronic, underlying stress issue, many of the 6 million people who have tried CBD find that a regular dose of a high-quality product is all they need to not only cope in times of acute stress, but modulate their overall stress responses too. The same could be true for you – for a variety of reasons. Due to CBD being a pleiotropic (something which affects various processes through multiple molecular pathways) there are all sorts of ways CBD interacts with the body which are currently at the forefront of theories as to how CBD oil can help modulate stress. As it stands, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is starting to be considered as one of the most integral regulators of stress response.
Anandamide – the gate keeper of stress
Although a lot of people use CBD to tackle stress as and when it arises, most evidence suggests that the accumulation of cannabinoids in your body will be what really makes the biggest difference. Chronic stress is speculated as being one main contributors to an ‘endocannabinoid deficiency’, something which occurs when your own, internally produced cannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG have fallen into short supply. The result of this is a wholly unbalanced body, which can lead to issues such as fatigue, illness, skin conditions and, in a word, disease. On top of this, a lack of anandamide can equate to an excessive release of stress hormone cortisol, resulting in an easily triggered or constantly active fight or flight response – even at times when this reaction isn’t required or appropriate.
According to a 2016 Neuropsychopharmacology research paper titled ‘Neurobiological Interactions Between Stress and the Endocannabinoid System’, a decline in anandamide appears to activate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis – a process which ultimately results in increased levels of cortisol in the blood. In a balanced body, this is a vital part of survival instinct, but when your endocannabinoid levels are off kilter this can occur not only in times of acute stress, but at the drop of a hat. Long-term, this elevated stress can end up in any number of physical and mental ailments, including adrenal burnout, which then leads to a further demise of endocannabinoids. And round and round it goes.
When you take CBD, a range of things happen all at once. When it comes to stress, one of the most important actions is the inhibition of enzyme FAAH, which breaks down anandamide. As a result, higher levels of anandamide are allowed to flow freely around your body, making its way to the brain where it can influence the HPA axis – our central stress response system. If CBD oil is taken on a regular basis, studies currently indicate that its accumulative nature means an overall higher levels of anandamide which can then block the unnecessary release of cortisol. A stress gate-keeper we could all do with.
CBD, Serotonin & Dopamine
When you do a little surface research into how CBD interacts with the body, you’re likely to read almost entirely about how it binds to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system. However, it’s really THC which appears to play the biggest role in ECS activation – CBD actually has a fairly low affinity for CB2 receptors, and indirectly activates them rather than directly activating them. In short, where THC fits into CB1 receptors like a lock and key, CBD sits imperfectly in CB2 receptors, blocking them rather than activating them. This, as above, is still a fascinating part of the process which seems to aid the flow of anandamide, but it’s not where CBD’s role ends. Clinical studies now indicate that CBD does directly activate other receptors in the body, including serotonin receptors and dopamine receptors – both of which are key neurotransmitters in the brain linked to stress and depression. There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done into the potential this interaction holds, but there are high hopes for its positive impact of mood, pain and even addiction.
One recent test on rats showed that induced stress over the course of 24 days resulted in decreased serotonin activity. After seven days of treatment with CBD, these levels were completely normalised.
Although dopamine is mostly associated with the ‘reward response’ (getting a happy rush when you eat a new food, for example) there is now also evidence to suggest that chronic stress dampens dopamine production – something which can cause vulnerability to mental illness and addictive behaviour. The relationship between CBD, THC and dopamine is still largely unknown, but thus far data suggests that cannabinoids increase dopamine neural firing. With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that plenty of CBD fans are sharing their anecdotal experiences of reduced stress after making the cannabis plant a part of their daily lives! We’d love to hear yours.